Thursday, 25 November 2010

Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire

SS Mary and Andrew is a truly odd church which must have once been cruciform; it has a westerly nave with a very high roof, a central tower and a castellated chancel all bolted together in an extraordinary fashion - this mess shouldn't work but does. I have no idea how it all evolved due to the singularly uninformative guide, which appears to have been written for X factor fans and so I'm not going to reproduce it here.

For a Cambridgeshire church it has a lot of interest including a really good Sheela-Na-Gig - its definitely weird but you've got to love it.

ST MARY AND ST ANDREW. Pebble rubble, coursed in the  Norman work. Norman nave and Norman crossing-tower, and no doubt also Norman chancel. Of the nave one N window serves as a witness. The crossing-tower has no original arches inside, but the lower stage above the roof is complete, and one window here has a remarkable carved surround of its head, with a flatly carved sheela-na-gig and defaced other figures (e.g. a goat whispering into a man’s ear). Above this traces of the bell-stage (nook-shafted window). The top stage is Perp with ashlar battlements and a bit of flushwork decoration. Small lead spire on top. The earliest stylistic evidence in the chancel is one N lancet, which, seen from inside, turns out to be one of a former group of three stepped lancets. The nave was enlarged in the C13 by a S aisle. The arcade is of three bays, has octagonal piers and plain moulded capitals. The arches are only slightly double-chamfered. The porch has an inscription: ‘Henricus Cipern me fecit’. It refers to a Henry Cyprian, whose chantry chapel was joined on to the main building, when in the second half of the C15 major alterations were made. The E and W arches of the crossing and the aisle windows are of that time. The S arch of the crossing corresponds to the S arcade. A former N chapel seems to have been pulled down and the arch blocked. - FONT. Square, C13: On four supports. - SEDILIA. Formed simply by letting the mullions of the Perp chancel S  window descend. - BENCHES. Straight-headed, traceried and buttressed. - SCULPTURE. great number of alabaster fragments from a former reredos.

St Mary and St Andrew

Crecy bowman

Sheela na Gig1

Porch heads1

Flickr set.

WHITTLESFORD. There was a welcome for travellers here seven centuries ago in the Hospital of St John, and there is a welcome today by its ruins, at a timbered inn with quaint carvings on its rafters. It is thought that the inn may have been part of the hospital in its later days, and we may still see close by the lancet windows of the 14th century chapel, with the ancient piscina and the recess in which the priest would sit.

For thousands of years there must have been an atmosphere of holiness here, for on what are called Chronicle Hills the men of the Iron Age buried their dead with high ceremony. They were borne from afar on the ancient trackways, along the green lane to Thriplow or past Whittlesford Mill, close to the church. On the bridge over the Granta was once a hermit’s cell. Today the old church stands in its green solitude with its story told in paintings set in oak panels, once as the church was in 1022, then as in 1390, then as in 1904. when it was in danger of falling, and again in 1922 on its 900th anniversary, when it was restored as it had been in 1470.

The tower, about 600 years old, has quaint gargoyles of animals and men, and under the parapet is a group of Norman windows, a stone in the head of one of them carved with a queer animal whispering into a man’s ear. The old timber porch has three little heads cut on the beams of its roof, perhaps 600 years old, the nave has a 13th century arcade, the lofty chancel has arches and doorways blocked up,an old oak stall with poppyheads, a medieval screen across two arches, Jacobean panelling and a Jacobean chair, and an oak chest eight feet long held together by a mass of iron bands with five locks, The font is 13th century. There are beautiful fragments of the medieval alabaster reredos kept in a case after being hidden in a chancel wall, and on a wall of the tower are traces of old painting.

Two fine figures in a modern window show two old friends of the village, Henry Ciprian holding a model of this church that he helped to build in the 14th century, and a village bowman of the time of Crecy. Here we come upon three fine modern men who are remembered: Walter Dixon, a scientific pioneer who served in the navy during the war; James Robertson, "a father and friend in home and school and village," master of Rugby and Harrow and Haileybury, and vicar here; and Patrick Moore, a boy of 20 who gave his life for us in the days before Armistice, and of whom we read, "Praised be God for his proud and cherished memory."


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